|photo by Alice Lum
By the end of the 1820s Isaac Ludlam, a surveyor for the city, had amassed enough money to build three handsome brick houses on East Broadway. Ludlam purchased three building lots on what was then Harmon Street from Alexander Hamilton on August 21, 1827. The area was quickly developing as a fashionable merchant-class residential neighborhood.
Construction on the three Federal-style houses began in 1829 and was completed the following year. Like its two neighbors, No. 281 was clad in Flemish bond brickwork. Two and a half stories tall, the roof was punctured by two extremely handsome dormers with broken pediments and arched openings. The brownstone lintels were paneled, an added expense that not only defined the homes as slightly upscale; but added to their attractiveness. Other high-end touches were on the inside: mahogany woodwork and marble fireplaces.
Ludlam and his family moved in to No. 281. Several members of his extended family worked in the surveying firm founded by his father, Stephen Ludlam, at No. 8 James Street. Successful and respected, Isaac amassed a sizable fortune as the years passed. In 1851 he was director of the newly-established Reliance Fire Insurance Company located, according to city records, “in Chatham Square or vicinity.”
The Ludlam family lived at No. 281 for over two decades. Then in 1853 it was sold to ship builder John B. Webb and his wife, Catherine Jane. It was the beginning of a series of quick turn-overs for the property. Webb sold the house a year later to Daniel D. Westerrell, who resold it in 1855 to Steven A. Bogert. Both men, like Webb, were in the shipbuilding business.
When grocer George A. Clark purchased the house in 1856 he and his wife Stephanie would stay. Clark operated his business at No. 104 Murray Street. By 1864, while the Civil War raged in the South, the neighborhood was still respectable; although not nearly so fashionable as it had been three decades earlier. That year the Clarks sold the house to shoemaker George A. Leicht who converted the house to accommodate his business. His son’s family shared the house.
Leight established his shoemaking shop in the basement. In 1872 he renovated the structure to better his business by removing a brick pier, adding a cast iron column, and replacing the brownstone stoop with an iron one. It is possible that at this time the parlor window closest to the entrance was carefully moved about ten inches, causing it to no longer align with the second floor opening.
The Leight family apparently rented the house during the following decade; for in 1888 the Loewing family was living here. That year young Reinbold Loewing got his name printed in The World when he made the Roll of Merit at Public School No. 75. The Loewings were still here three years later when Reinbold's brother, Morris, became a sub-freshman at City College.
By 1894 J. M. Lamadrid and his wife lived here. He was superintendent of the Empresa del Alumbrado Electrico de Cartagena y Barranguilla—the supplier of electric light stations in the West Indies, Central America and other locations. But it was Mrs. Lamadrid who got the most press.
In January 1887 Mrs. Lamadrid, whom Frank Leslie’s Sunday Magazine called “a handsome, dark-eyed, vivacious English lady,” had established what she called “St. Andrew’s One Cent Coffee Stands.” The “stands” were essentially what we could call soup kitchens today. But so as not to embarrass the destitute citizens receiving the welfare, she charged one cent for each portion. Frank Leslie’s gave examples of the “miraculous cheapness of the St. Andrew bill-of-fare.”
“Half a pint of coffee, with milk and sugar and a slice of bread, 1 cent; beef soup, with vegetables and bread, 1 cent; pork and beans, 1 cent; fish cakes, 1 cent; sandwiches, 1 cent; fish chowder (on Fridays), 1 cent. There are also rice puddings and other delicacies, as occasional extras; and in Summer there will be farinaceous dishes, with milk.”
Soup was supplied to families by the quart or gallon. Within the first three months of operation, Mrs. Lamadrid had supplied more than 115,000 meals.
Until now the headquarters of the charitable society was nearby at No. 207 East Broadway. Now Mrs. Lamadrid turned the former shoemaking shop into the kitchens of the St. Andrew’s Coffee Stands. On November 29, 1894, The New York Times announced that “Tickets have been issued, entitling their holders to free dinners at the kitchens of the St. Andrew’s coffee stands, 281 East Broadway, from 1 to 4 o’clock P.M.”
The following year about 1,500 persons “of all ages accepted her invitation, and when they went away their hunger was more than satisfied,” reported The New York Times. Mrs. Lamadrid told the newspaper “That is all I want. If I can always be assured that the poor go away satisfied, then I am satisfied, and there is contentment all around.”
The Times noted described the Thanksgiving 1895 menu. “The bill of fare at the East Broadway quarters consisted mainly of turkey, roast beef, roast lamb, pies, cakes, cranberry sauce, coffee, tea, nuts, assorted candies, and in fact, almost everything, except intoxicants.”
Helping her “in feeding the hungry with turkey and other good things” were like-minded women—Mrs. W. M. Fleming, Countess Susini, Mrs. Gilmore, Mrs. Hill, and Miss Barnard.
If families were unable to make it to No. 281 East Broadway, food was sent to them. “Mrs. Lamadrid sent immense bags of substantial food and dainties,” said The Times. “These bags were delivered from early morning until late at night.”
“We sent out tons of food,” she told a reporter, “and in every instance much gratitude was shown by the recipients. We do not propose that any shall be hungry, if we can reach them.”
The operation and the somewhat-famous Thanksgiving dinners went on in the basement of the house for years. Then in 1903 George Leicht died and his graddaughter, Katie Francis Leicht, sold the house.
The St. Andrew’s One-Cent Coffee Stands operation was moved to No. 31 West 8th Street. Mrs. Lamadrid died in August 1908 and her husband took over management of the charity. Christian Nation reported that she made “the dying request that the work to which she has given twenty-one years of her life, be continued.”
In the meantime trimmings merchant Morris Simiansky and his wife Beckie had purchased the old Ludlam house. Simiansky performed some alterations on the house, including removing the interior stairs and installing new ones. In 1909 the couple sold the house to Dr. Michael S. Landa. His son, George, was an active member of the Academy of Political Science in the City of New York.
Once again, interior renovations were done. Mrs. Lamadrid’s kitchens were returned to use as a store and it would appear that Dr. Landa used the parlor level for his medical practice. The family lived on in the house for decades. In 1921 it was assessed by the city at $15,000—about $152,000 today.
No. 281 continued to be used as home/medical office when Dr. Nathan Botwin purchased it in 1946. Like his predecessors, he went to work altering the structure. The doorway was replaced, as was the ironwork on the stoop and basement area. The doctor had received his medical degree from the University of Glasgow Medical School just ten years earlier. He would practice from the East Broadway address until 1977.
When Mrs. Lamadrid was feeding the city’s poor in 1893, Lillian D. Wald founded the nation’s first visiting nurse service, The Henry Street Settlement. The Lower East Side neighborhood, as Mrs. Lamadrid knew well, had changed from a fashionable area to one of tenements and overcrowding. Wald’s charitable organization sought to improve the unhealthy conditions of the tenements and to establish labor laws.
Dr. Botwin sold the house at No. 281 East Broadway to the Henry Street Settlement in 1977. For a period the Settlement rented the building to the Betances Health Unit, which conducted major renovations inside. Unbelievably, however, after a century and a half, the plaster ceiling decoration, the marble mantels and the original mahogany doors survived.
The Henry Street Settlement still owns the somewhat careworn house at No. 281 East Broadway. Despite its nearly two centuries of use the character and charm of the 1829 building seeps through. Although the wonderful paneled lintels have been chiseled flat and the stoop and doorway have been replaced, the elegant dormers are intact. The house stands as a battered reminder of a time when this stretch of East Broadway was home to the families of financially secure merchants and businessmen.
|photo by Alice Lum